I’m going to start the New Year by responding to a couple of the biggest controversies in education, starting with the new GED Test. I want to hear your thoughts, too.
I’m going to get straight to the point: I like the new GED Test, for the same reasons I like the Common Core State Standards. But even with five years of development, we weren’t ready for it.
Side Note: I’m just getting acquainted with the TASC Test from CTB-McGraw Hill and HiSET Test from Education Testing Service, so I won’t comment on them yet.
My attitude hasn’t changed too much since I wrote about this two years ago. In “The 2014 GED Test and Its Impact on Adult Literacy Providers” I thought the key impacts of the new test would be:
- Increased program costs for technology to prepare students for computer-based testing.
- Students would take longer to prepare for the new exam.
- Increased cost for the exam will be a barrier for low income students.
- Programs would have to invest heavily in upgrading curriculum and instructors’ skills.
I concluded, “There is a cumulative effect of increasing testing fees, requiring technology to prepare for computer-based testing, and aligning to the CCSS. … Shifting to technology-enhanced, standards-aligned instruction will increase the long-term baseline cost of delivering GED test preparation services. Programs will require increased funding in the short-term just to maintain quality and capacity for learners. Programs will need to plan for ongoing maintenance costs for professional development, technology consultation, Internet and physical security, assessment and software licenses, and equipment and hardware updates.”
To put it plainly: GED Test preparation will require a lot more money and time to achieve the same results.
I wrote that in Spring 2013.
Am I surprised in January 2015 at the news that my predictions came true? Unfortunately no. We didn’t make the investment. Money didn’t come flowing in. We didn’t start hiring more full-time staff (77% of adult literacy instructors are part timers). It took six months into 2014 for the first Spanish-language version of GED Test prep materials to reach the market.
The big question in my mind was the degree of impact the new test would have. I have to admit it’s worse than I thought it would be. Folks who lived through one or two of the last GED Test changes reassured me that the field took a plunge for a year and then bounced back. But the news that is the plunge is steeper this year than the last change in 2002.
How long will it take us to bounce back?
Will we bounce back?
I am frustrated that adult literacy programs and funders were not able to read the warning signs, and that our field is underprepared. I can’t pin point one organization, or even one category or group that is really to blame. It is a whole systems failure: funders, employers, state and federal administrators, publishers, instructors. We dropped the ball. We did not transition gracefully.
It’s not the fault of the GED Testing Service alone, though they had their role to play. GED Testing Service showed up at every conference, conducted online surveys, did field research to answer educators’ questions, and tried to get the word out in every state. That’s when we had a chance to give our input, and to change direction. At the same time, GED Testing Service can’t change the economy, can’t make employers invest in training for entry-level workers, can’t stop the international community from having a better education system than the U.S. The GED Test has been accepted by 40 states. A whole mountain of curriculum and assessments and policy have been built up around it.
So now what?
I’m concerned that the rhetoric of failure will contribute to underfunding adult education instead of recognizing the significant investment required. We need more support, both funding and political will, to get up to speed, or really just to maintain our old speed.
Most people still don’t know the field of adult literacy exists. The general public does not understand the complexity of barriers faced by those who didn’t complete high school or have been out of the workforce for a long time. A few folks who ask what I do in adult literacy have even responded that they think low literate adults are just undeserving poor who should have taken advantage of their free public education when they were kids. Some did, some didn’t, some couldn’t, some did in other countries…it’s not that simple.
My question to you, readers, is: Who is responsible for the education of low literate adults?
I’m not asking who is to blame, but how do we inspire the investment of time, funding, and motivation necessary to improve the basic skills of adults? What do we do next with the new GED Test? Please respond in the comments with your ideas.